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How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Body Over Time

sleep deprivation

We’ve all had a night or two of poor sleep that’s left us feeling tired and groggy the next morning. It’s not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world. However, if we regularly don’t get our recommended 7 to 9 hours, the effects of limited sleep can be rather frightening.

October 27th is both the day the clocks go back and The Sleep Council’s National Sleep In Day, so why not treat yourself to an extra hour or two in bed? To encourage you to get a good night’s sleep as often as you possibly can, we’ve looked into how inadequate sleep can affect your body and your mind after several days, weeks and months...

Sleep deprivation

After 1 night of bad sleep

While the odd night without sufficient slumber can make you feel tired and irritable the next day, it thankfully won't do any permanent harm your health. As well as feeling sleepy (and likely being a little snappy), the day after a bad night’s sleep you’ll also be subject to lack of focus, impaired coordination and the desperate need for an early night.

For those who have existing hypertension, a single night of inadequate sleep can also cause elevated blood pressure throughout the following day.

Sleep deprivation

After 2 - 3 nights

After a few nights of poor sleep, the mental effects can become more serious. Lack of sleep can lead to increased anxiety, paranoia and feelings of mistrust in other people, as well as impaired memory and poor motor skills. 

A few days without a decent night's sleep will also play havoc with your hormones, causing your emotions to feel all over the place. Your skin will also begin to take a hit, as your skin starts to look sallow, your eyes become puffy and fine lines and dark circles around the eyes start to emerge.

Sleep deprivation

After 1 week

After a week of really bad sleep, you’ll likely be feeling rather unwell. With a foggy brain that makes it very difficult for you to concentrate and make decisions, it’s not surprising that your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road increases significantly.

Another risk you’ll be prone to after a week of limited sleep is falling asleep during the day. Known as microsleeping, these involuntary naps can last several seconds, and often happen without the person experiencing them realising. Microsleeping can occur anywhere, anytime too; at work, at school, or while watching TV; it doesn’t matter what you’re doing.

Sleep deprivation

After 1 month

If sleep deprivation isn’t addressed, after a month you may begin to notice weight gain

as your levels of leptin and ghrelin hormones become unsettled. Leptin controls feelings of satiety and without sleep is reduced, while ghrelin regulates feelings of hunger and increases the fewer hours of sleep you get. In this state, these hormones can cause an individual to overeat, as they find themselves getting hungry quickly and not feeling full once they’ve eaten. 

Sleep deprivation also prompts the body to release higher levels of insulin after you’ve eaten, which can lead to an increase in your risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result of your body changing the way it processes glucose.

To make matters worse, frequent sleep disturbances can also lead to high levels of inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, which have previously been associated with an increased risk of inflammatory disease and mortality.

Sleep deprivation

After 6 months

If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you may start to experience hallucinations. While this is scary enough already, for people with bipolar disorder, this can also trigger mania. Many studies have found very strong links between long term sleep deprivation and increased mental illnesses. Around the 6 month mark, other psychological risks from limited quality sleep include frequent impulsive behaviour, anxiety, depression, paranoia and even suicidal thoughts. 

Sleep deprivation

After 1 year

Serious long term sleep deprivation brings with it many more problems. A year of poor sleep can, for some individuals, cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones. By this time, your risk of neurological diseases such as dementia and seizures will have also increased, while you’ll also be prone to conditions such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Regular sleep disruption is also associated with lower life expectancy. Sleeping 5 hours or less a night has been found to increase mortality from all causes, scarily, by around 15%.

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